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Frames of view
Systems of belief
Structures of belief
Faith is the focus
Reality is relative
Knowledge is negligible
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Philosophical Frameworks

Systems of Belief

Just a decorationHere is our starting assumption: the belief and ideas that a person has form a system. The parts of that system are related in various ways. That system is dynamic in that it changes as new information is added and in that all new information is modified by the system. This, I believe, is an incredibly powerful idea. If this is true, then it is possible for an individual to change the information that they receive in order to protect and maintain their existing belief system. Do you know anyone who is so rigidly stuck in a set of beliefs that they cannot see anything outside of that framework? C.S. Pierce calls this The Method of Tenacity. You can observe this method at work in yourself as well as others.

If our beliefs form a dynamic system as described above, it is also possible that an individual may purposely act to alter that system. We can change our own minds - rewrite the scripts that lead the roles we play in life - reprogram our mental software. These metaphors may seem over the top, but it is hard to over estimate the power that we may have if we were able to redesign our own belief systems. If our belief systems control how we experience the world, what we admit as possible, and what we dismiss as impossible, then whatever controls the belief system is a mighty power. I am here suggesting that we are capable of controlling our own belief systems to some extent. I also maintain that few people ever consciously set out to revise their own minds and stick to it. Our belief systems are naturally self- preserving and have many sophisticated techniques for defeating change. A diagram showing the relations of information, ideas, feelings, and actions - according to this conception of belief systems

Consider your own system of beliefs, ideas, feelings, and motivations. As I am describing it, this expanded system is the primary factor that make up your individual identity. What you believe, what you feel, and how you act (or are inclined to act) defines who you are. Do you need evidence of this? Well, how do you react when other people try to change your beliefs? Many people react strongly to such attempts. Some students, for instance, come into this course - InterQuest - with a strong statement of resistance before any has happened at all. They make it clear that nothing that happens here can change their basic beliefs. I am always gratified that these folks have the awareness that philosophy is an activity in which basic beliefs are to be challenged and revised. So even though they are set against change, it is positive that they recognize it as possible. Some other students are not passionate about this at all, and of course we recognize indifference and apathy (i.e. withholding attention) as a very powerful self-defense mechanism of the belief system. As a caveat for learners in InterQuest I have to admit that a key purpose of this course is to enable individuals to examine and revise their own belief systems - but I am entirely sincere in my intention not to prescribe what any individual is to think and believe. I am mainly concern with how we think (i.e. the process of thought) - and in that regard I hope to have significant impact.

Here is a simple model for how a belief system may be structured: we recieve information about the world in various ways; that information works to create our beliefs, but the information is also modifyed by our existing beliefs; our beliefs give rise to feelings (which involve evaluations of the information); how we feel determines how we are inclined to act in response (which may be actions in word, deed, or merely in the imagination). The picture at right shows a way in which these elements of the belief system may be related.

Right now, begin an investigation into your own belief system. Start with these questions:

A decorative arrowWhat beliefs do you have?
A decorative arrowHow are those beliefs related to one another?
A decorative arrowHow are your beliefs related to your feelings and actions?
A decorative arrowWhich, if any, of your beliefs are most important and basic (i.e. such that the other beliefs depend on them)?
A decorative arrowHow far back can you trace your basic beliefs? To childhood?
A decorative arrowWhere did you get your beliefs? Did you create them? Did you inherit them?
A decorative arrowHave you experienced major changes in your belief system? What was that experience like?
A decorative arrowCan you draw a diagram of a particular cluster of information, ideas, feelings, and actions? If so, I'd like to see it.

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  2003 © Jon Dorbolo